Many of us consider Memorial day weekend the official start of summer in the United States. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we should also keep in mind why this holiday was established in the first place. It was originally established as a way to recognize the ultimate sacrifice of those brave men and women who have died to preserve our freedom.
The Civil War Origins of Memorial Day
In its earliest form, before it was recognized as an official holiday, many families observed Decoration Day, an informal holiday in the spring when families came together to decorate the graves of those who had died in the Civil War. This was especially popular in the south, but soon became part of family and church traditions in the north as well. This observation was often combined with a family reunion or church picnic.
World War I and Beyond
After World War I, often called the Great War, people expanded their notion of Memorial Day to include commemorating anyone who fought and died in any U.S. war, not just the Civil War. It was originally recognized by the government as an official holiday in 1971, with the date being set as May 30th. Later, it was switched to the last Monday in May as part of a switch to having all federal holidays switched to create a long weekend. This gave families more time to go back to ancestral homes, plan family reunions or simply have an extra day to attend Memorial Day parades, memorial ceremonies and other events. Today you can find Memorial Day ceremonies in nearly all cities and towns honoring fallen heroes.
Memorial Day Poppies
Countless silk and paper poppies appear on people’s lapels each Memorial Day in tribute to those lost in wartime. Have you ever wondered why poppies are the official symbol of Memorial Day and the American Legion? It began with a poem written by John McCrae in 1915. He wrote “In Flanders Fields” after watching the poppies growing on a field of graves in Flanders (near Belgium) after WWI. The poem is recognized by millions:
Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
A professor and YWCA volunteer, Moina Michael, was moved by the poem and made a silk poppy to wear on her lapel on Memorial Day a few years later. She encouraged her friends to do the same. By 1920, the National American Legion had taken up the poppy as a symbol of Memorial Day and sold silk or fabric versions for people to wear on their lapels. Today, the American Legion sells these poppies every Memorial Day to raise money to assist veterans, restore memorials and honor the military dead in a number of ways.
Gone But Never Forgotten
As you and your family spend time together this holiday weekend, do not forget those who died to protect our freedoms. Take the time to visit a military cemetery and decorate the graves of military dead, attend a Memorial Day parade or participate in a Memorial Ceremony. If you can, observe the United States’ one minute “National Moment of Remembrance,” which is recognized at 3:00 pm in each time zone on Memorial Day.
At Halloween Empire, we honor all those who have served so faithfully on our behalf. Have a safe and respectful Memorial Day!